How much free advice should you give away in a proposal?
If you work in professional services (think: public relations, management consulting, lobbying), one of the perennial questions you face is this: “How detailed should I make my proposals?”
On the one hand, you want to show that you grasp the situation and to demonstrate your expertise. On the other hand, you don’t want to work for free. Nor do you want to give away so much info that the client-to-be no longer needs you.
Consider the following example (from P.R.): Should you share the names of the relevant reporters you have relationships with? In my experience, most proposals will drop names but not contact info. I think that’s a smart compromise.
Here’s where things get tricky: Should you go further? For example, should you work up a sample pitch? Should you mention that TechCrunch is always hungry for scoops about a startup’s latest fundraising round? Should you reveal that Ellen Pollock is the business editor at the New York Times, or which outlets, if you pay them, will publish your op-ed?
In other words: Should your proposal include a plan?
A rundown of the pros and cons — along with some viable hybrid approaches.
Marcus Sheridan believes in bucking a trend. As the owner of a pool-installation company, he’d encountered the same question from customers over and over: “How many arms and legs is this gonna cost?”
His competitors wouldn’t divulge a price without first having a conversation with the prospect. As Marcus recounted to the New York Times: “Pool installers are like mattress or car dealers — we hate talking about how much a pool costs until we have you in person, because there are so many options and accessories we want to sell you. As a result, pool companies never mention price on their websites.”
Marcus thought differently. As an entrepreneur, he knew that if he could provide something his competitors would not, that difference would pique people’s interest. So he wrote a blog post titled “How Much Will My Fiberglass Pool Really Cost?” Soon, the post appeared first when people Googled questions about the price of a pool.
To be sure, Marcus didn’t cite an exact figure. But the fact that he identified figures at all, including figures for the most popular options, saved his company from the brunt of the 2008 recession.
And yet, almost 15 years later, Marcus’s method remains the exception rather than the rule: Most businesses — especially freelancers — remain adamantly opposed to making their prices public. Ask around, and the reasons run the gamut.
I might be less gullible than an 80-year-old grandma, but my hubris lowered my defenses — and it nearly cost me thousands of dollars. Here’s my story, along with six smart takeaways.
Imagine that you’re a freelancer. A potential client gets referred to you by a trusted colleague. It’s a colleague you’ve been working with for years, and everyone he’s connected you with has proven to be a serious prospect. You’re so excited that you make a rookie mistake known to anyone who’s gone on a first date in the last decade: You fail to Google the guy.
The project at hand (writing the script for a workshop) has an aggressive deadline (less than one week), along with two provisions you’ve never encountered: The client doesn’t care about the tone or style of the text; he just wants it to be “informative.” And he wants it not as a Microsoft Word or Google document, which are easily editable, but as an Adobe Acrobat P.D.F., which is not.
Why is this odd? Most people who hire a ghostwriter care about their words; that’s why they pay big bucks for a pro. Also, most want to tweak writing that goes out under their name; rare is the client who accepts whatever you’ve written uncontested.
On one hand, these requests constitute red flags. On the other, they also make your job easier. Your mind leans toward the latter.
Let the way a prospect couches his request determine your next steps.
Here’s a scenario all freelancers will bump into at some point: I recently completed a project running LinkedIn ads for a client. My client then referred me to a friend of his, who sent me the following email:
“I’d love to chat with you about LinkedIn when you have a minute.”
Here’s how I responded:
“Sure thing! Do you have a specific project in mind? In case you don’t have the link, here’s more about my services.”
I never heard back. Any ideas why?
Here’s my best guess: This guy didn’t want me to hire me. He wanted free advice.
Before your client asks what you can do for him, ask him what he can do for you.
“My computer crashed.”
“My password doesn’t work.”
“I can’t connect to the internet.”
In our Age of Gadgets, such complaints are inescapable. Yet the language we use to describe them is exasperatingly vague.
Always have a conversation before you provide your price.
Recently, a prospective client emailed me. The subject line of her message said it all: “Need a Media Trainer.”
As someone who delivers media-training workshops, I was delighted. So we scheduled a call.
Ten minutes into the conversation, however, it turned out that she didn’t want a workshop on how to talk with reporters. She wanted a workshop on how to talk with an audience. In other words, she wanted a presentation trainer.
To her, the difference was a mere nuance. To me, these were two entirely different topics. Sure, they were related and there was some overlap, but only in the same way that Fiat and Ferrari are both cars.
Want to make your op-ed pitch-worthy? Then make sure you address these four essential elements.
As a ghostwriter, I’m often asked to draft op-eds. Yet contrary to what you might think, writing is the easy part; it’s the other stuff that’s hard.
Perhaps the hardest part is what happens even before I set pen to paper. For example, it’s one thing to have a great idea; it’s another to convey that passion with precision.
So the next time someone asks for help with an op-ed, take a step back and first address the following four issues. (If you’re feline-friendly, you can remember this formula as “CATS.”)
You can tell a lot about a person from his emails.
Who would you want to have a beer with?
That question kept racing through my mind as I read the replies to a solicitation I recently sent out. The emails, which within an hour numbered more than a dozen, ranged from the pedestrian to the eloquent.
I’m publishing a representative handful to correct a widespread misperception among consultants in every industry: from publicists to painters to pet-sitters, what ultimately separates the winning vendor from the runners up isn’t the quality of your work. It’s whether people want to work with you. In other words, your likability.
“We’re gonna make your logo pop! We’re gonna make the IPREX globe spin! And we’re gonna make the buttons beautiful!”
“A button can be beautiful?” asked a skeptical Susan.
“Oh yeah!” beamed a confident Jesse.
It was at this moment that Jesse had Susan. He’d been muddling through the meeting, but this burst of bravura, energy and passion was sincere and infectious—a gust of fresh wind that I believe won him the contract to redesign SusanDavis.com.
Similarly, when I myself interviewed with Susan, things coasted along for the first 15 minutes. She asked about my experience; I provided conventional answers. Then she deployed her pet question: “If you were an animal, what would you be?”
“That’s easy,” I grinned. “I’d be a dog.” It was at this moment that I had Susan. With great pride and obvious pleasure, I regaled her with stories of my miniature schnauzer, Wyatt.